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Top Republican sees good starting point for Farm Bill

Representative Bob Goodlatte, the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, says it's too early to know what will survive out of the USDA's farm bill proposal as Congress writes the law this year. But like many farm state legislators in Washington, he was impressed by the work of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

"I think it's a very impressive work product that the Secretary and his staff have taken very very seriously," Goodlatte told Agriculture Online Friday. "He now has a work product that I think has surprised a lot of people."

Goodlatte is still studying the details and he said he hasn't heard much from farm groups on the Administration's proposal yet either. His office has fielded calls from constituents who want to know more about Johanns' proposals. Goodlatte's southwest Virginia district includes livestock farms and forests administered by USDA's Forest Service.

He expects the USDA proposal to generate enthusiastic debate. And, he said, it should be reassuring to those in agriculture that, even with many new ideas, Johanns' proposed farm bill isn't a drastic overhaul of farm programs.

"It's not all that different from the framework of the last farm bill," Goodlatte said. When asked about his reaction to increasing direct payments, he said "we need to be cautious about direct payments," since they aren't tied to production and he believes farm programs should encourage production. But he sees the other payments in Johanns' proposal, marketing loans and revenue-based countercyclical payments, as a good mix along with the direct payments that would be about seven percent larger for most commodities, starting in the third year of the Farm Bill.

Goodlatte also shares Johanns' interest in making a farm bill that would be less vulnerable to attack under World Trade Organization lawsuits such as those filed by Brazil and Canada. Johanns believes direct payments would be considered non-trade-distorting, if fruits and vegetables can be planted on commodity program base acres. Currently fruits and vegetables cannot be planted on those acres. A WTO ruling on Brazil's challenge to U.S. cotton subsidies found that direct payments are trade distorting because of the restriction on vegetable and fruit farming on land getting subsidies. Johanns wants the next farm bill to allow farmers to grow produce on program crop land.

Goodlatte said he does not think that efforts to revive the Doha Round of trade talks will change the farm bill this year.

"I don't think it will affect it at all," Goodlatte said.

He doubts that the European Union will give enough concessions on market access to move talks ahead and sees little likelihood that developing nations will agree to greater access, either. And this week after the USDA farm bill proposal came out, the European Union released a statement that "If we are to have a successful outcome to the Doha Round, the U.S. will need to propose more ambitious cuts and disciplines in trade-distorting domestic farm subsidies."

Even if all of the obstacles can be overcome, Goodlatte also said he doesn't think a Doha Round agreement would pass in the House of Representatives this year.

Representative Bob Goodlatte, the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, says it's too early to know what will survive out of the USDA's farm bill proposal as Congress writes the law this year. But like many farm state legislators in Washington, he was impressed by the work of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

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